Today’s answer comes from Jay Thomas, Dating and Relationship Strategist.
Today’s answer comes from Jay Thomas, Dating and Relationship Strategist.
When I was 16 years old, I asked my Grannie if she’d heard what the preacher said. Whatever it was had confused me because it was illogical. It made zero sense.
“Oh, Kathy,” she said matter-of-factly. “You’re not supposed to actually listen to what he says. You’re supposed to make your grocery list or think about the week, or something like that.”
And so, I learned that going to church is ritualistic. It’s a centuries old past down tradition for some, where going through the motions is sufficient. This is not a blanket statement, but I’ve noticed that this is how many operate.
Being Christ-like is least of some people’s concern.
That’s my earliest thought of how baffling religion seemed. My next memory is when my father became Deacon Gregory at Starlight Baptist Church, off 113th Street in Chicago. I was in my mid-20s. He was proud. His wife was proud. His stepdaughters were proud.
When my family and I visited, parishioners beamed with more pride.
“Your dad is such a great man! He’s such a good deacon! You must be proud!”
I smiled and shielded my thoughts. I haven’t seen this man in two years, and if I wasn’t here now, then no telling how many more years would pass. I let them hold on to their beloved deacon. He seemed to be doing more good for the church than with me.
Were his actions Christ-like? Perhaps with them, but not with me.
My wonderment with religion continued into my 30s where I found my own sense of purpose and meaning for life. It shifted into spirituality once I recognized the universality of all religions. There are certain principles inherent in each one.
But I couldn’t let go of how people just seemed to go through church motions.
For example, when I suggested to a friend that she stop judging another person, she responded as if I was crazy. She replied as if not judging was some nutso idea that I’d developed from the crevices of my brain.
“Do you mean stop judging in your head or do you mean stop judging out loud, like don’t say the words?” she asked.
I wondered if she’d ever asked her preacher to clarify what he meant when he said don’t judge.
Instead I replied, “I mean at all. What right do you have to judge someone else’s choices or decisions?”
She went on to describe her understanding of my suggestion. She’d stopped giving her opinion about her sister’s life because she realized it was her sister’s life and there was nothing she could do about it.
Similarly, this thought crept back into my head when people began to judge Kanye West so harshly after his alleged breakdown. I wrote about this already, so I won’t re-hash. However, that post wasn’t about a so-called crazy rapper. It was about how once again self-proclaimed Christians are sometimes the first to be least compassionate. They are the first to call someone an asshole. They are the first to condemn someone to dark places.
They are the first to become defensive when I bring it to their attention.
Like the time when I asked this FB question: What’s the point of going to church if you treat someone like crap?
My question, as always was intended to promote thought and conversation. But I could tell that some people seemed offended. Wounded.
Answers ranged from “To grow stronger in Christ” to “We all fall short.”
It confused me. I thought if you were growing stronger in Christ then you might be doing things that are Christ-like. Christ cared for the poor. Christ hung out with prostitutes. Christ washed people’s feet and spread love.
Well, according to the Bible anyway.
Over 25 years later, I realize some people must have gotten the same advice my Grannie gave me. Maybe they’re all making their grocery lists.
For the past 18 years, I’ve straddled the hard and fine line of motherhood. I’ve guessed and second-guessed each and every decision because, unlike other relationships, you never really know if you did the “right” thing until years later.
Swim team is a perfect example. In 2008, my oldest daughter, Kesi almost drowned. She was nine. Consequently, we decided she should learn to swim. A few lessons later, she joined the swim team. I thought they’d be swimming once a day and training for light competition. Turns out they had two-a-days all summer, with weekly competitions, and a culminating all-state competition at the end of August.
“This is going to be a lot of work,” I announced after day one. “Do you think you can do it?”
Her raspy voice whispered from the backseat “Yeah. Do you think I can do it?”
That’s one of those think on your feet parenting kind of moments. And being myself, there was only one answer.
“Of course Kase! You can do anything you set your mind to.”
And she did. She worked her ass off training twice a day. She went from being the slowest, only African-American little girl swimmer in that pool, to having an amazing backstroke at the end of the summer competition.
So I did what we do here in the States. I signed her up to “train” during the fall and winter. Surely, if she worked through the winter months, she’d be even more awesome for the following summer.
By May of the following year, she quit. She was tired. She didn’t want to do it anymore.
Because Dwight and I firmly believe in not making children do what they don’t want to do, we allowed her to.
And I’ve always wondered if I should’ve made her do it. Have I lived up to my role as her mother? Was I supposed to teach her work ethic by making her swim? Was I supposed to give her some speech about not giving up just because you don’t feel like it?
Years later, will she tell her therapist that she wished her mother would’ve pushed her harder? Will her whole life hinge on if I made her pursue swim team a second year?
Eventually, I always come to the same conclusion. I…don’t…know. Parenting is a careful dance of allowing your child to be his or herself, while still being yourself. To do that, you have to know who that is. My role is to guide her. I’m here to show her how to stand confident in making decisions that are aligned with how she feels. I’m here to tell her that it’s okay to change her mind about something, even if she’s knee-deep in it and doesn’t see a way out. Like my Grannie says, “If you made your bed hard, then get out the bed.”
Today, my daughter is an 18 year-old senior on the cusp of high school graduation. Three years ago, she intended to complete a Cosmetology license at a trade school so that she could fulfill her then dream of doing hair. At that time, I felt just like I did when I watched her competing in that backstroke.
“That your daughter?” a passerby asked.
“Yep,” my husband and I proudly replied.
Just like swimming, somewhere along her path, she decided doing hair wasn’t for her. She changed her mind, and consequently changed the direction of her life. Now, she wants to go to college to be a Cosmetic Chemist.
Although she hasn’t asked, the question still floats in the air, “Do you think I can do it?”
My answer is the same, “Of course Kase! You can do anything you set your mind to.”
And I hope she believes it. Because for me, that’s what mothering is all about. It’s parenting the person I see before me. It’s parenting an individual, not an identity. My daughter isn’t me. She’s her own person with her own experiences. In my mind, being a mother is helping her cultivate her self and her dreams, no matter how many times that changes.
On this Mother’s Day, I’d like to remind everyone that mothering looks as different as we do. Subsequently, I’m sure we’re all doing the best that we can in each moment. What do you think? How do you see motherhood? How do you think your mother saw her role?
Hate to gross you out but you know I can’t pass up an opportunity to share a lesson learned. What you’re looking at is my burned hand. It’s in process of healing. On December 30th, I held a convo with my oldest daughter, Kesi, while simultaneously pouring boiling, hot water into a mug. Because I was listening to her and not paying attention to how the scalding water got into the cup, I totally missed the destination and emptied it over my left hand.
Here’s why I’m sharing.
A lot of my writing is about being mindful and paying attention in grandiose ways: yoga, eating, working, relationships. Really, we should be mindful in each moment. Either I should have poured water, or I should have finished my conversation. As simple as it seems, I shouldn’t have attempted both. But I’m a product of my environment. Our culture values multi-tasking. However, it didn’t serve me well here. Once my hand was on fire, whatever we discussed turned insignificant. Cold water. Neosporin. Gauze. Holding back a teardrop. That’s where my attention shifted. And trust me, that’s all I was focused on at the time.
It’s really hard to be mindful in each moment. Today, I’ll just start with paying attention to how I pour hot water.